Even Travis Pastrana Has a To-Do List

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Travis Pastrana’s bucket list has been crossed off a lot. He won championships on both two and four wheels, racing motocross, supercross, rally car, and off-road. He jumped cars with Ken Block and hit the mountains at Pikes Peak. He’s not even new to NASCAR, racing the Craftsman truck series and the Xfinity series. But throughout all the twists, turns, and burnout of Pastrana’s career, there’s one race he never started: the Daytona 500.

For the 2023 run, Pastrana is assisted by 23XI Racing [That’s 23-eleven], Black Rifle Coffee, and Toyota, hoping to check out the Cup car ride on NASCAR’s most famous speedway from the roster and take the green flag at number 67 Toyota Camry TRD. This is not a done deal; NASCAR filled the four open spots at Daytona’s course through qualifying, and Pastrana will face drivers including Jimmie Johnson for a spot. In typical Pastrana fashion, he was thrilled to have the chance to do something fun in the car.

We had a brief chat about going fast in a stock car.

CD: With everything you’ve done, what’s the appeal of Daytona?

TP: This is a great American breed. I think it’s every American redneck’s dream from when they were young to . . .[He pauses, clearly concerned about his wording]

I’m using a redneck with . . . I mean, I’m a total redneck.

Used with love.

Yes! It was one of those events that my whole family got together for. Long lost friends, family, relatives, relatives. It has always had a real special place in my heart. Also, Daytona, it was my first win in Supercross, in that infield, so it’s a cool place and I always wanted to be a part of it.

You race in many types of motorsports. That was normal in the 60s, but then the races became very segregated by specialty. Recently there have been more swapovers. For example, Tony Stewart will drag race, Indy racers look at F1, stock car racers look at Indy, and so on. Are we going to see more people jumping from one type of race to another again?

Unser and Andretti, race everyone. That’s what racing is all about. It used to be that you only had a few big events a year, in the NASCAR series or the Indy series, and the drivers just wanted to drive. They love to drive. They have so much passion. But now, how many races do NASCAR guys do in a year? I saw it with motocross, they work very hard and it costs a lot and you have to do everything, be an excellent rider, speak very well, promote. By the time you reach the top, you are exhausted. But I think what we’re seeing is that the riders who have had names, as they get closer to the end of their careers, they say, “You know what? This has been a job. I really want to have fun. I’ve loved racing all my life and I’d do it for passion again.”

I didn’t realize how many great riders would try to qualify, but I wanted to get my way in.

Is that what Daytona 500 racing is all about for you?

Well, I was disappointed at the end of my first NASCAR season when we finally crashed into Daytona. I almost cried. My dad said, “I’d give my left arm to have the opportunity to do one lap around Daytona at 200 miles an hour. And zoom backwards through infield, over that safe? I’d give my other arm, my right arm, could feel what that feels like.” Only he didn’t say “arm”. So, yeah, you know what? I’m almost 40 years old and I’d rather not do well—I mean, I’d feel bad if I did something to harm someone else’s race—but worst case scenario, I tried. And I feel for me to go out there and try to be a part of this race is way more important to me than maintaining my reputation and one day saying, “I’m so good out here doing this, but I’ve never tried.”

OK, so you have a healthy attitude towards this, but you still have to qualify. Are you worried about it?

It’s scary. I didn’t realize how many great drivers and how many great cars will be trying to qualify this year, but I want to get my way in.

What’s really tough is that the first time I get in a Cup car at Daytona — at least, the first time I get in a Cup car outside of second gear, I was doing pit practice the other day — is going to be my qualifying round. It all depends on how well you get through those gears and how smoothly you run those two loops. Every move on the wheel, it drops you 10 places in qualifying. It would be very difficult for me never to have driven that car. This is very difficult for anyone. But, hey, my first race was there in the low end [Xfinity series] I finished backwards, but I still finished in the top 10.

Is driving a stock car very different from driving a rally car, or riding a bicycle?

In motocross, they say, “When in doubt, pump the gas.” The same with all-wheel drive. When things go too sideways, you aim and that right foot just hits the floor. So whenever I get nervous in NASCAR, I tend to want to put more fuel in to work things out, and that’s not what works on pavement, it’s not what works on rear-wheel drive, and, frankly, it’s not what works at 190 miles per hour. . Things happen too fast. Things come out fast.

When I drove stock cars before, I struggled with rear-wheel drive, with aerodynamics, understanding draft, and with pavement. I have more experience on pavement over the last 10 years. I have had great success in Rallycross. Scott Speed ​​​​was on my team, with F1 experience, helping me understand how I needed to think differently to be competitive. I would never make a career out of NASCAR, but I believed that I could drive pretty well, and I was with a very solid team.

Tell us about 23XI. What attracted you to them, or them to you?

This is a team that really wants me to do well, it will give me the best way forward. Denny Hamlin has won three Daytona 500s. He is probably the most successful limit plate racer out there. He has so much knowledge to impart and this is a new team still looking to build their brand. This is an opportunity. It’s a team that’s not going to back down from the hierarchy, not going to say, “You’re our fourth rider, you’ve got the fourth best bike and the fourth best of anything.” I went in and they said, “We have the same crew chief that handles everything. We’ll start all the cars the same way. It’s up to Bubba [Wallace] can, you can.” For a rider to know that you are on equal terms and that it is you who have to prove yourself, it means a lot. I think this is where I can show my best.

What else is on the list? Do you have a wish list of different driving things you’d like to do and it’s right there?

There are only two things on my list that don’t have the word “win” before it. One of them drives a Top Fuel dragster, and I was able to check it off the list with Scott Palmer [in 2022]. Here’s another one, the Daytona 500 race. I’d love to win the Baja 1000 in a trophy truck. I think it’s something achievable that might happen at a later date. But as far as my to-do list goes, maybe the Dakar is the only other race I haven’t done that I think would be a great experience. But having the opportunity this year at Daytona to try to be a part of it is a dream come true.

Well, you’re kind of famous for making things look so much fun.

Because it’s so much fun.

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